Most diseases can be separated from one's self and seen as foreign intruding entities. Schizophrenia is very poorly behaved in this respect. Colds, ulcers, flu and cancer are things we get. Schizophrenic is something we are. --MARK VONNEGUT, "The Eden Express"
AT THE age of 3, he went to his first psychiatrist. He remembers her as the lady he visited to "to find out why I got mad at Mommy."
At the age of 6, he was expelled from kindergarten. "A behavior problem," he recalls.
At the age of 12, he thought he was a cat. He spent the days meowing, curled up on the rug. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, a disorder characterized by a fragmented personality, he spent the next three years inb a mental institution.
Now, at the age of 33, Raymond Avrutis -- published author, former president of his senior class at American Univerisity with a master's degree in sociology and 18 credits toward his doctorate -- spends his days in a dingy, fourth-floor walk-up, surrounded by cockroaches and cardboard boxes.
Avrutis can't find a full-time job. He is a veteran of a foreign war more fearful to employers than the one in Vietnam -- mental illness.
"I see myself under a seige," he says. "Like the Russians at Stalingrad. I'm under a job seige."
He has distributed nearly 2,000 calling cards bearing his name, number and the promise of a "$100 REWARD" for information leading to his obtaining a job. He has called 25 employment agencies, 100 insurance companies.
A heavyset man with pale blue eyes, a brown mustache and a persistant stutter to his speech, Avrutis lives on the $116 a week he collects in unemployment benefits. He was fired last year from his job as a clerk-typist at the Environmental Protection Agency. His supervisor says he was fired because of the quality of his work. aBut Avrutis -- who scored a perfect 100 on the typing test one month before he was hired -- feels he was fired for a different reason.
Citing a relatively new category under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, Avrutis filed a formal complaint against the EPA, claiming he was discriminated against because he is schizophrenic.
The government is barred from discriminating against federal employes not only because of race, religion or sex but also on the basis of a mental or physical handicap. The 1978 law is extremely broad, defining a handicapped person as anyone who has a "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, has a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment."
Out of 9,785 discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC in 1980, only 1,141 cited physical or mental handicap as the reason, according to an EEOC spokesman. Raymond Avrutis is one of the first employes at the EPA to file under the new "mental handicap" guideline.
"It's a new area of discrimination law," says Gerald Tognetti, chief of the Hearings and Inquiries branch of the EEOC. "There's not a whole lot of judicial guidance. It'sd something the federal government is beginning to come to grips with."
Meanwhile, Raymond Avrutis sits in his apartment. The shades are drawn to hide the red brick wall, the only view through the grimy window. It is stifling inside the tiny apartment. The only sound is the whirring of a single fan. A trickle of sweat runs down his cheek.
Every day, he writes his journal, propped up on his bedraggled bed, tapping out the words on his portable Smith-Corona. There are reams of neatly typed pages, bound by his compulsive love of detail. The woman across the hall has complained about his typing late at night, but he stays up anyway, often until 4 to 5 in the morning. A lonely guy in a T-shirt, tap-tap-tapping while the radio plays softly.
I had a dream this morning. Three gray mice were climbing the walls like cockroaches. One mouse was by my bed. I dropped a shoe on the mouse, killing it. An insect or two came forth from the body of the mouse. I woke up. A few days ago, a very fat black shape darted in my kitchen.
He jumps off the iron bed, in search of the paperback book he authored in 1975. His book sold 35,000 copies, he says. He searches through the cartons, finds the book, takes a ballpoint pen and signs the fly leaf in a childlike scrawl: "May you never have need for this book."
The book is titled, "How To Collect Unemployment Benefits."
I am no longer a young man. I turn 33 in 6 days. I will be very much approaching middle age. Maybe Dr. Weisburg will terminate me when I reach 35, as a father saying "goodbye" to his son. Maybe.
Dr. Paul S. Weisberg, a Washington psychiatrist, has treated Raymond Avrutis for the last six years.
"He's come a long way," says Weisberg. "Against all odds.
Schizophrenia, commonly mistaken for a "split personality" disorder, is the most disabling and least understood of mental illnesses. The American Psychiatric Association defines schizophrenia as "a large group of disorders, usually of psychotic proportion, manifested by characteristic disturbances of language and communication, thought, perception, affect and behavior which last longer than six months." It is marked by mood changes, delusions, hallucinations, loss of empathy with others.Behavior may be "withdrawn, regressive and bizarre," according to the APA definition.
There are approximately 2 million to 4 million schizophrenics in America, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms range from acute to latent. Avrutis, says Weisberg, would be classified as mild. He is different from other schizophrenics, Wesiberg says, because "he has an aggressive personality. Most schizophrenics tend to withdraw. Raymond has a winning way." Still, the psychiatrist says, "He can't be sure what people's intentions are. There is some fear and a sense of ominousness."
There is no known cause for schizophrenia, although researchers have linked it to a myriad of sources, from heredity to chemical imbalances, from lack of loving environment during infancy to vitamin deficiencies. There is no known cure, although tranquilizers are commonly prescribed.
Avrutis takes 300 milligrams of the tranquilizer Thorazine each day. He attends group thereapy twice a week. Weisberg says Avrutis is not violent, or prone to violent outbursts. "It's not a split personality," Weisberg says. "It's a rigid personality with a lot of fear attached to it." w
Dr. Sam Keith, chief of the center for the study of schizophrenia at NIMH says only 10 to 30 percent of schizophrenics find full-time competitive employment.
"The fear issue is the main one that keeps a large number of schizophrenics out of the work force," he says. "It's an unrealistic fear. Schizophrenics, by and large, are much less prone to violence than the average person walking down the street."
"There frequently is discrimination," says Vera Mellen, a Fairfax County psychologist who heads a rehabilitation center that places schizophrenics in jobs. "Some of it is nothing more than a stigma, which is unfair. Some of it is realistic. Frequently, severely chronic schizophrenics can be unreliable." Mellen says several area employers have been very receptive to hiring the mentally handicapped, among them the Marriott Corp., McDonald's and Dart Drug.
How a schizophrenic responds to stress can cause "some inherent problems," Keith says, but those can easily be overcome by an understanding employer."
In 1963, Keith says, there were more than 300,000 schizophrenic patients permanently hospitalized. Now, there are less than 80,000.
Since the move toward deinstitutionalization, and the advent of major tranquilizers, schizophrenics can not only function in society, but lead a reasonably normal life.
But Raymond Avrutis says his life isn't normal.
"I'm unemployed," he says. "That's NOT normal."
I feel I am too freaky to be hired by most straight businesses, except if we run into a boss who has mental illness in his own family (which could be quite frequent), a person who isn't as far along as I am. At least by Tribune ad is getting some response. I have a Secretary (Male) ad in for their next issue (I'm glad it's published every two weeks!) and I will have an ad in the issue after that, plus my ads to find women, which may or may not be successful. Even the crank calls will be some diversion . . .
I turn 33 in 2 hours and there's not one to notice or celebrate except me. I am sad and lonely and depressed now. Yet next week, when I pass out my $100 REWARD cards, I should have some high adventures!
I have no one to really celebrate my birthday with.Maybe celebrating birthdays is something that younger people do, or people who have close friends. No one hardly ever calls me, and when people did I chased them away. I am the creator of much of my own lineliness . . .
"I just ate most of a package of cooked hamburger with onions and catsup which is my usual food 7 days and nights a week. That was my birthday diner. I am listening to the radio as I type this journal entry. I am glad to have something to say on my 33rd birthday .
Ray Avrutis was born in Washingnton, D.C., on Feb. 28, 1948, to an attorney and his wife. He was the oldest of two sons.
Avrutis' emotional problems, he now says, began in the first year of his life. "My psychiatrist told me my mother didn't feed me at the right times. Evidently, that's a very crutial time. My psychiatrist says, 'She had a hard time letting you live.' I think now that my mother was also schizophrenic."
(His mother died in 1974. His father, William Avrutis, who now lives in New Ork, declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Raymond Avrutis says he was a gifted child. His mother taught him the alphabet when he was 1 1/2. He was able to read while still in diapers.
He became aggressive, and was sent to a child psychiatrist at age 3. Therapy ended after three months. He attended nursery school, then kindergarten. Before he was expelled, he remembers being sent to the third grade for one day. "Had I been more emotionally mature," he wrote in his neatly typed autogiography recently, "I would have stayed in the third grade at age six."
For the next three years, he went to a schoold for emotionally disturbed children, then to Georgetown Day School, from which he was expelled for his behavior.
At the age of 12, he says, "I claimed to be a cat. I saw the cat, Puff, getting more love from my mother than I received." Avrutis recalls meowing and purring. "Most of the time I knew I wasn't a cat," he says now, "But I wasnt't getting the attention and love I needed."
He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and spent the next three years as a patient at Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville, Md. At that time, he says, there was no law guaranteeing handicapped children the right to an education. He sat idle for the first seven months.
When the hospital subsequently hired a teacher, Avrutis advanced rapidly. He did his homework on the top of a ping-pong table "because there was nowhere else in the ward to study," he says. "The ping-pong table was just an ornament because no one used it."
At the time, he says, his IQ was tested at 154. Raymond Avrutis was brilliant, they said.
He was sent to The Walden School, a now defunct alternative high school on Capitol Hill. "The headmaster told me several yars later than he didn't know what he could do for an ex-mental patient," says Avrutis, "but when he spoke with my father, my father cried and begged him to take me."
"That's true," says Alex Redmountain, former head of the school. "His father was very upset. There didn't seem to be any school which would take him. Like most parents, he wanted to believe his son was more normal than he was."
According to Redmountain, Avrutis "grunted and groaned" when he first came to the school. Gradually, Redmountain pursuaded Avrutis to write down his feelings. He wrote of love and loneliness. Finally, he began to speak again.
"He had been through a lot," recalls Bruce Barnes, a former pupil at Walden who is now one of Avrutis' closest friends. "At other places, he was an easy target for kids to pick on. At Walden, because we all felt like misfits, he fit in."
Avrutis flourished at the school. "He was one of our prize students. He was excellent in all ways. His spirit and lovingness captivated everyone," says Redmountain. Avrutis took the College Boards and scored 587 on his verbal and 603 on his math. He was accepted at American University. It was the late 1960s and in many ways Raymond Avrutis -- certified schizophrenic -- embodied the restlessness of a generation.
"All of a sudden, the doors were wide open," says Barnes, who now teaches disabled children. "Back then, if you were different you were almost a hero ."
Avrutis wrote a column for the newspaper. He also got interested in school politics. In his senior year, he ran for class presidlent on a platform advocating, among other things, nude volleyball.
"Here was a guy who was not in the closet about his goffiness," says Barnes. "He would put on a wolf costume to give speeches. He played into it completely."
He played into the lineliness and alienation of the freaked-out '60s, the absurdity of the Vietnam war, the drug-induced fogs and the non-conformilty others merely affected on weekends. "Who else could have pulled it off than someone who had been such a misfit already?" says Barnes.
Raymond Avrutis didn't need LSD. His brain was manufacturing it already.
"Ray was definitely off the wall," says former classmate Don (Cerphe) Colwell, now a popular Washington disc jockey. "But nobody knew he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. You have to understand, at that time, everyone was off-the-wall.It was very 'Animal House'-like. People doing LSD, constantly stoned out. That kind of thing. People knew Ray was strange, and stand-offish. He was a real character."
Colwell says Avrutis' election to class president was a sign of the times.
"It was all goof," he says. "That same year they elected a Samoyed dog as queen of the prom."
Avrutis graduated in 1970, then attended graduate school at New York University. He had finished his book on unemployment. He took it to 56 different publishers and got turned down. The 57th agreed tot publish it.
Things seemed to be going well for the young graduate student until September 1974 when he received a phone call one morning. His mother had died. Avrutis says the news made him snap. The event triggered a "psychotic break" that sent him to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for three months. He says now he lost a sense of time and space, that reality was difficult to perceive.
"I was more crazy at St. E's than I ever was at Spring Grove."
I sure don't feel that I've done too much sine I turned 27, although I hve mellowed out and have lived for just over 2 years on my own by myself. remember that Stanley helped me with $60, Bill gave me $100 and my father may have given me $250 or less when I moved out of Sonia's . . .
Again, I have fantasies (although not painful fantasies) about going into St. E's. If I do, perhaps I'll write an article for the D.C. Gazette, detailing the various inefficiencies of the hospital . . . but will they print it, with my name, ward number and the fact that I'm in the hospital because I'm an unemployed schizophrenic who can type but ran out of money? "Poor man," some will say -- but no one will call .
At first, he says, he put his history of mental illness on his resumes. Then, urged by friends, Avrutis stopped volunterring the information to prospective employers. "I was afraid I would be discriminated against," he says.
There was a succession of deadend jobs, then in February 1979, Avrutis landed a part-time job as a clerk-typist at the National Institute of Education. Eight months later, a friend told him about a permanent job opening at the Environmental Protection Agency. Among the glowing recommendations from his supervisors, one wrote, "In general his quality of typing was above average for Government workers in similar positions."
Avrutus, who typed 66 words per minute with four errors, landed the job at EPA's Office of Enforcement in Southwest Washington.
Rosanne Light, his supervisor at EPA, says Avrutis did not tell her he was a schizophrenic when he was hired, but did mention it during the course of his employment.
"Somewhere along the line, he did say he was," she says. "Frankly, I didn't pay any attentio ot it. I didn't think he was serious. If somebody says, 'I'm really neurotic,' big deal!Ninety-five percent of people thse days are neurotic. It didn't matter. He didn't ask for any special treatment. It was mentioned very casually. He didn't make it sound like a handicap."
Avrutis -- like all federal employes in the first three months of their employment -- was on probation. He typed well, she says, but wouldn't proofread his copy. She also says he was not particularly well liked.
"He was argumentative," she says. "And there was a problem with his appearance. Not so much his physical features, but his manner of dress, which was not desirble. He didn't smell very good."
Still, the supervisor says, "If he had dressed better and bathed more frequently, I still would have fired him.It was the quality of his work. I don't believe it's related to any mental handicap."
Avrutis says his supervisor asked him to wear a tie to work, which he did. She also, he says, told him to wash his shirts inwarm water, rather than hot. "She didn't like the wrinkles in my shirt," he says.
In fact, says Avrutis, Rosanne Light "tried to be my therapist on occasion" but there was simply not enough work in the office for him to do. He was fired in January, he says, because he, more than any of the other employes, was expendable.
Would Light have hired Avrutis if she had known he was schizophrenic?
"The EEOC investigator asked me the same thing," she says. "It's a very difficult one to answer. If I had known, but felt that his condition in no way affected the job, sure I would have hired him."
But she adds, "I did not know he was schizophrenic, nor have I been able to determine what a schizophrenic means."
According to Jean Lightfoot, associate director of the EAP's Discrimination Complaint Staff, in the last three years they have received only three complaints (out of a total 240 registered) citing mental or physical handicap. These figures, according to one EEOC official, are representative of other federal agencies.
If Avrutis wins, compensation could include back pay and action could be taken against the offending supervisor as well. None of the mental handicap claims has been resolved yet, and officials say some federal employes are not aware of the new guidelines.
"But as people catch on to it, it's becoming less rare," Lightfoot says. "Everybody knows about race or sex, but not about mental or physical handicaps. It's sometimes hard to distinguish. The definition is very broad."
In some cases, she says, a common ailment such as an ingrown toenail could be interpreted as a physical handicap.
"If it's chronic ," she says.
I wonder if my typing wakes Laurel up across the hall? I hve two ads for the Tribune, but I fear that I will receive no calls from women, even with my ad reading :
SEMI-SKILLED LOVER, 33 desires sexual relationship with mutual satisfaction with a moman in her 30's. If you're interested or curious, please let down your defenses and call me .
My telephone spells NORM-CAT . . .
Ray Avrutis says he likes living along. "I guess I don't realte too well to other people," he says, apologetically.
Not so, says Nancy West of Potomac Temporaries. Sometimes the company finds Avrutis part-time typing jobs that pay about $5 an hour.
"He's so polite and nice," says West. "We just love him. He has a wonderful personality. He does have a speech problem, so we don't have him answering the phones."
West says whe would find it "hard to believe" that Avrutis was fired from a job because of the quality of his typing. "He's a very good typist," she says. "He did 69 words a minute with one error on our test. He's definitely one of the best."
Avrutis is still looking for fulltime work.
"He's a guy who keeps on trying," says Bruce Barnes. "He just doesn't give up." But it's harder for him now than it was in the '60s, says his friend. "Things are more status-quo-conscious. One part of him is hurt: 'Why won't people hire me?' He goes back and forth. He's proud of his individuality, but sad about not being accepted."
Avrutis attends American University two nights a week, doesn't drive and likes to listen to the radio. There is a pile of sociology textbooks on the bare wooden floor.
When he gets a permanent job, Ray Avrutis, says, he'll be able to afford the one thing he wants most in this world: a cat. But not a kitten, he points out. It would have to be an older female. One hat had been spayed.
One, he says, "who already had a personality."